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Heritage Trail project

Bloomberg:Beijing Preservation Group Questions Foreign Ministry Project

2008-12-15 03:56:26.453 GMT

By Dune Lawrence

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — China’s Foreign Ministry hasn’t completed applications for its renovation of a 19th century courtyard and garden, raising concern the historic site may be damaged or even demolished, a non-profit group said.

The State Administration of Cultural Heritage hasn’t received the plans for the Ke Yuan site in Beijing even though the project was announced in April and confirmed by the ministry last month, the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center said in an e-mailed statement today.

“Our biggest concern is why, since the Ke Yuan renovation plan has already been confirmed, the plan has not been reported to the State Administration of Cultural Heritage for review in accordance with the law?” the report said.

The group’s actions reflect calls for greater accountability within the government, especially for real estate development. Many of Beijing’s unique courtyard houses, accessed by narrow alleys called hutongs, have been demolished in recent years.

The garden and its surrounding courtyards are accorded the same level of protection under Chinese law as the Forbidden City, the imperial compound that forms the center of Beijing, according to the preservation group. The city’s traditional architecture, typified by courtyard houses, has disappeared at a rapid pace in the past 20 years as the capital sought to develop new housing.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang on Nov. 25 said that the plan has been approved by the Beijing cultural heritage authority. The aim of the project is to “eliminate potential safety problems” and the complex will be open to the public eventually, he said. A faxed request for comment to the ministry today received no immediate response.

Many historically significant sites have been destroyed by similar projects, the protection center said. It wants guarantees that preservation principles and laws will be strictly applied.

“We hope that the Foreign Ministry can publicly release its plan for renovation work on Ke Yuan, and once approved for implementation, that the public will have a chance to visit the repair site,” the report said.

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